THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware
Gallery/Scout Press; 8/6/19
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: Gothic inspiration meets modern technology; a summer 2019 must-read
Every summer, there’s one thing I look forward to arguably more than anything else: the newest novel by Ruth Ware. And every summer, without fail, Ruth Ware outdoes whatever brilliant novel she delivered the year prior. Ware’s 2019 release is no exception - THE TURN OF THE KEY is Ware’s best novel yet. Equal parts old-school gothic suspense and modern psychological thriller, THE TURN OF THE KEY seamlessly blends an homage to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw with a page-turning story of surveillance, paranoia, and domestic drama. Following a young woman who accepts a nannying position at a state-of-the-art smart house in the Scottish Highlands, only to wind up imprisoned for the death of one of the children in her care, THE TURN OF THE KEY is one of the most binge-worthy, genuinely addictive suspense novels you will read this summer. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if Ruth Ware writes a suspense novel, yours truly will read it and love it, but THE TURN OF THE KEY blew even this die-hard Ruth Ware fan away. If you haven’t already picked up Ruth Ware’s newest, add it to your TBR immediately. I’m calling it right now: this is one of my favorite books of 2019.
When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.
What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.
Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.
It was everything.
She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.
Cross the remote, picturesque atmosphere of the Scottish Highlands with the sharp, sleek modernity of a “smart house”, and you’ve got the instantly-engrossing, built-for-the-big-screen backdrop of Ruth Ware’s newest novel. If you’ve been a CBTB reader for even a short while, you’ll already know what a huge fan I am of crime novels in which the story’s setting takes on a persona and character all its own. If this is something you love, too, you’ll be instantly hooked on Heatherbrae House, the luxurious “smart house” central to THE TURN OF THE KEY. Heatherbrae House is a beguiling blend of old and new; this stately building has been modernized with all the trappings of current technology and convenience, but still retains the character and history of its past. For Rowan Caine, Heatherbrae House represents a dream opportunity to set herself up for financial success, and to escape the stressors of her everyday life. A live-in nanny position at this luxurious estate - not to mention the job’s enormous salary - is a dream come true. But like the setting for any good suspense novel, not everything at Heatherbrae House is as it seems. It’s a familiar concept, sure, but in Ware’s masterful hands, THE TURN OF THE KEY twists and turns into something altogether fresh and brilliant. Heatherbrae House blends the best of Gothic suspense with the best of modern paranoia. This home has both a dark history, which may just lead Rowan to fear the house is haunted, and a “Big Brother”-like quality to it, which will lead Rowan to fear that her every move is being watched not only by the home’s dark energy, but by modern technology, too. Not many authors could so authentically and seamlessly blend the old with the new, but just leave it to Ruth Ware to get this compelling combination so very right.
THE TURN OF THE KEY isn’t a particularly violent or overtly dark story, but Ware does a truly stellar job building white-knuckle tension in the subtleties and intricacies of this novel’s plot. From the outset, readers know that things won’t end well for Rowan… in fact, they will end so badly that Rowan will ultimately find herself in a jail cell, awaiting trial for the death of a child under her care. But how did things go from so idyllic to so disastrous? It takes a special story to hold a reader’s attention when the outcome is known from the outset, and that’s exactly the kind of story Ruth Ware crafts in THE TURN OF THE KEY. Readers will be riveted by Rowan’s experience settling in to her new life at Heatherbrae House; the beauty of the Highlands, the apparent generosity of Rowan’s new employers, the incredible amenities found within Rowan’s new home--Ware paints a picture of a true dream scenario for her protagonist. But as time goes by, tensions and suspicion begins to build. The children in Rowan’s care prove to be more difficult than anticipated, and her new employers leave home for weeks on end, leaving Rowan to fend for herself. As bizarre and inexplicable occurrences begin to take place in the home, Rowan launches an informal investigation into the home’s history--and what she learns will hint at a sinister past and potential evil lurking in the home to this day. And that technology that made the home so appealing? It means that Rowan’s every move is being monitored. Bit by sinister bit, THE TURN OF THE KEY unravels to find Rowan on a collision course with tragedy.
Speaking of Rowan Caine: here Ruth Ware has given us another complex, compelling protagonist, one who quickly became a personal favorite Ware protagonist for this reader. Unlike the protagonists of Ware’s earlier novels, who seemed to drink a bit too much for their wellbeing, and never quite had their wits fully about them, Rowan is an eminently sharp and clever woman--one whose resourcefulness is revealed to truly shocking end in the book’s unputdownable finale. Rowan is, in many ways, an “everywoman” - a relatable character thrown into unthinkable circumstances. Perhaps this is what I loved about her so much. Rowan’s relatability grounds THE TURN OF THE KEY, making the bizarre and spine-tingling events that befall her at Heatherbrae House all the more chilling. Rowan doesn’t seem like the kind of woman whose imagination would run away with her… so what explains the footfalls coming from the home’s locked, boarded up attic? Ware structures THE TURN OF THE KEY in a genuinely fascinating way: from the outset, readers know that Rowan has been arrested in conjunction with the tragic death of a child under her care. THE TURN OF THE KEY, then, finds Rowan telling her side of the story - what really happened, and who she believes is actually responsible for this tragedy. You know those crime novels that you end up loving the most when you go into them knowing very little about the story’s plot? THE TURN OF THE KEY is one of them. The less you know here, the better - just sit back and let Ruth Ware’s brilliant plotting sweep you up in a story of a building’s dark history and its modern-day consequences. Readers will be riveted every step of the way as Rowan - and Ruth Ware - unravel the gripping mystery of Heatherbrae House.
THE TURN OF THE KEY is simply unputdownable summer suspense. With a tantalizing blend of Gothic inspiration and modern-day scares, this riveting psychological thriller-meets-mystery will have readers glued to the pages, desperate to uncover the sequence of events that lead to a child’s tragic death. Ware is often considered a modern-day Agatha Christie, and that has never been more true than in the precision and cleverness of plotting on display in THE TURN OF THE KEY. True to form, Ruth Ware has delivered yet another stellar suspense novel here, one that I’m confident you will love as much as I did.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press (August 6, 2019)
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